The Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) will begin the 2020 softball season with games against a pair of Oklahoma teams.
The Bears will face Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa on February 14 at Enid, Okla., and will meet Northern Oklahoma College-Enid Feb. 15, also at Enid, Okla. DMACC was originally scheduled to compete in the Cowtown Classic Feb. 14 and 15 at Fort Worth, Texas, but that event has been cancelled.
DMACC comes into the season with a No. 3 national ranking in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II poll. The Bears are coming off a 52-8 record in 2019. They won the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference (ICCAC) regular-season championship at 26-2, the NJCAA Region XI-A championship and finished third in the 2019 NJCAA Division II National Championship.
DMACC head coach Bob Ligouri said his team has yet to practice outside, adding that his outfielders have not taken any fly balls since the fall season.
"It's kind of hard to know what to work on," Ligouri said. "We're kind of dealing with the ability to know where our weak areas are."
DMACC will open the season with one of the top pitchers in community college softball in sophomore Josie Swafford of Choctaw, Okla. Swafford earned first-team All-American honors last season, compiling a 28-3 record with a 1.37 earned run average. She was third nationally in strikeouts with 261 and fourth in ERA.
"We feel really good about where she is at," Ligouri said. "She's a hard worker and has a good attitude."
Swafford will be backed by sophomore Ally Anderson of Atlantic and freshmen Sophie Swygman of Elkhart, Anna Stevens of Ames, Katelyn Stanley of Truro and Haley Forret of Van Meter. Ligouri said Swygman is suffering from a stress fracture and will be lost to the team for a few weeks.
Ligouri said freshmen Kaylie Reynolds of Muscatine and Abby Archer of Van Meter will alternate at catcher with freshman Sophie Maras of Johnson backing both, adding that Maras will probably be more valuable as an infielder. Other catching candidates include freshmen Elise Dowler of Des Moines and Tessa Palmer of Norwalk.
Sophomore Elly Schuemann of Marion returns at first base with Swafford and Anderson filling in when they aren't pitching. Maras has the inside track at second base and will share time with Forret. Freshman Delaney Kelley of Moline, Ill., is slated to start the season at shortstop with Forret seeing time there as well. Freshman Daphne Alstott of Fort Dodge gets the starting not at third base with Reynolds also seeing time at the position.
Sophomore Maddie Karr of Center Point, the Bears' leading home run hitter last season with 13, played some at first base last season and has been moved to a corner outfield position. Ligouri said sophomore Ally Pickering of Winterset, who was the designated hitter most of last season, is battling for an outfield spot along with sophomore Katie Slauson of Waukee and freshmen Zoey Wright of Ottumwa, Jocelyn Long of Overland Park, Kan., and Corry Pickering of Winterset.
"With the outfield, it's really difficult to put them in an order as to who is going to play where because they haven't taken a fly ball since October and we haven't seen them throw distances," Ligouri said. "In the next three weeks we expect to experiment a lot with different combinations."
Ligouri said that while it is important to win every game, the most important thing is to be the best team possible for the postseason.
"What we're looking at is who plays the best together and who makes each other better," Ligouri said. "We kind of leave things open because things change and players improve. We obviously want to win every game, there's no question about that, but we're going to try to give the people opportunities to compete that have earned them in practice. That's the only way you are going to get better."
Ligouri noted that his team's schedule includes several ranked teams in addition to the always competitive ICCAC.
"We feel like you try to play the best competition you can because that's how your player are going to develop real confidence and your team is going to develop that grit you need in the postseason," Ligouri said. "I want our players to face adversity before they face it in games that really matter. When you do that, that toughens you up and you see who is going to lead and who is going to fall by the wayside. I think the end result is what we want."
Ligouri said pitching depth and finding the right combination in the outfield are two of his primary concerns.
"We have some freshmen that are playing in the infield right now and you never know what is going to happen with freshmen until they get out there as far as their confidence and situations," Ligouri said. "I like the cards we have. It's just a matter of (we as coaches) doing our job and them getting better as a team and having fun doing it."
Following the games in Oklahoma, the DMACC softball team will be idle until Feb. 28 and 29 and March 1 when the Bears play a five-game series in Mississippi. DMACC opens the home season March 22 against Marshalltown Community College (MCC).